Defamation case studies

Knowing the facts of the law is one thing; students also need to be able to apply the law, and identify hazards. The first two questions here are genuine cases: students should try to spot the error in each case. The third example is a story published on the extremely remote island of St Helena, a UK overseas territory where English defamation law applies.

Defamation puzzle 1

Herbert Fudge (30) of Camberwell was jailed for bigamy

The Daily Express reported it. The story was true. Every fact was proved in court.

Journalists have absolute privilege in covering court cases. This means the person they are writing about – a witness, or the accused – cannot sue for defamation.

Herbert Fudge was embarrassed by the story. It made life difficult for him in Camberwell.

He sued. He won. Why?

(This is a real case, but the name has been changed to prevent web searching)

Defamation puzzle 2

A damning report was published about a local council’s housing department, alleging serious mismanagement a few months earlier.

It severely criticized the deputy housing manager. The report was published in a council agenda, meaning the local paper was protected against a defamation claim by qualified privilege when it ran a story about the report – as long as it got its facts right. The newspaper did not name the deputy housing manager.

The deputy housing manager (there was only one) sued the newspaper. And won. Why?

Defamation case study – St Helena (UK law applies)

For the last case, visit www.sams.sh and click on “The Sentinel” tab at the top of the far right column. All copies of the paper will appear: scroll right to the bottom and select the third issue ever published, headlined, First Attempt To Censor the Sentinel (it’s also here). Read the story. Is it libelous? Is it fair?

 

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